Trying to predict Tony Award winners is a favorite pastime among theatre fans who hedge their bets on all sorts of factors: box-office sales, critical acclaim, the show’s ability to tour. But here is a new way to aim to predict which musicals will walk away with Tony Awards: the success of their ensemble actors.
The track records of Broadway ensemblists’ success at the Tony Awards may be predictive of Awards darlings. Though producers often secure big names to inch them towards a fruitful run, the true testament may lie in who creates the background characters. (Boasting Audra McDonald, a record-setting winner, as your star has historically done better for the individual than the production—as it did with Ragtime, Shuffle Along, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, all beloved shows that did not win Best Musical or Best Play in their eligible years.)
Delving into the pages of Playbill Vault, there are a few actors who have been in more Tony Award-winning musicals than anyone else.
Although Dear Evan Hansen took home the 2017 Tony for Best Musical and no one in their onstage cast is on an Equity ensemble contract, things look different in revival land.
Last year’s winner for Best Revival of a Musical was Hello, Dolly!. Surprisingly, for most of the company, 2017 was the first time they had been in a production that took home the top honor. Cameron Adams and Jenifer Foote each performed in their 11th Broadway show, but had never before been a part of a Tony Award-winning company. But, one ensemblist from the Bette Midler-led production had quietly, but consistently, been a part of numerous Tony-winning shows: Linda Mugleston. Among her (then) 11 Broadway credits were four productions that won Best Musical or Best Revival of a Musical: Anything Goes, Nine, Into the Woods, and Kiss Me, Kate. Hello, Dolly! now marks her fifth.
(Historically, honorable mention goes to four additional Broadway actors who have been in the original company of three Tony Award-winning musical: Michael McCormick for Hello, Dolly!, The Pajama Game, and Kiss Me, Kate; Jenifer Smith for A Gentleman’s Guide, The Producers, and La Cage aux Folles; Stephen Berger for Kinky Boots, The Pajama Game, and Into the Woods; and Anne L. Nathan for Once, Assassins, and Thoroughly Modern Millie.)
If we use this metric—the number of productions a chorus member has been in that have won Best Musical or Best Revival of a Musical—predictions about the 2018 Tony Awards look like this:
In terms of new musicals, only one actor has been in the original ensemble of more than one Tony Award-winning musical before: Jon Rua. As an original company member of both In The Heights and Hamilton, he’s this season’s best omen for the residents of Bikini Bottom and their chances at taking home the crown for Best Musical with SpongeBob SquarePants.
As far as musical revivals, this metric shows that this season’s race is tight. Only three shows are nominated: Once on This Island, Carousel, and My Fair Lady. My Fair Lady does boast Linda Mugleston in the cast—but she has a role as Mrs. Pearce—not officially ensemble. No ensemblist this season has been in as many Tony-winning productions (five) as her. But, ensemblist William Youmans from Carousel and ensemblist T. Oliver Reid from Once on This Island have each been part of the original company of three Tony-winning productions. Youmans has been in Big River, Titanic, and Billy Elliott The Musical; T. Oliver Reid has been in Kiss Me, Kate, Thoroughly Modern Millie, and La Cage aux Folles. Each of those shows won either Best Musical or Best Revival of Musical in their eligible year.
Still, we have a long way to go until the Awards broadcast June 10. Then, we can see how this theory pans out.